JUDICIARY: A STATE OF EMERGENCY

In this article, leading human rights activist, Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa SAN spotlights the crises rocking the nation’s judiciary and calls for urgent reforms.

When the President announced the first Coronavirus lockdown at the end of March, 2020, hardly did we ever think that it would continue in this form, with the economy in shambles, all critical sectors crawling and almost everything at a standstill. Following that painful but necessary lockdown, the judiciary began to wobble, while many cases suffered long delays and others were adjourned sine die. Then came the EndSARS protests, the looting of the courts, the burning down of the oldest court building in Nigeria, together with its archives and antiquities. It is doubtful if the court system will ever recover from that invasion, notwithstanding the gallant efforts of the leadership of the judiciary and indeed the Lagos State Government. We are gradually feeling the heat of these catastrophic occurrences, as no substantial progress has been made ever since. Some judges have no courtrooms to sit in to conduct judicial business, some others share a single courtroom with other judges while some others have no chambers or office to operate from, due to no fault of theirs. It is that serious indeed.

The Judiciary is established under section 6 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended. The Constitution proceeds to state the function of the judiciary as to “extend to all matters between persons, or between government or authority and to any person in Nigeria, and to all actions and proceedings relating thereto, for the determination of any questions as to the civil rights and obligations of that person.” In reality therefore, the judicial powers as conferred upon the courts relate to adjudication and determination of disputes. This power is traceable to the period of creation, when the first man (Adam) was put to trial in the Garden of Eden. God drafted the charges, served them on him and took his defences thereto and thereafter judgment was passed. However, judicial power was properly codified when the father-in-law of Moses visited him and advised him to set up several courts for the resolution of all contentious issues, depending on their magnitude. Man has followed this pattern ever since, leading to the trial, condemnation and crucifixion of Jesus by the Jews.

The judiciary became more entrenched as part of the foundation of the creation of Nigeria, due to the Sir Henry Willink Commission of Inquiry report, detailing the means of addressing the fears expressed by the minority ethnic groups, post-independence. Assuredly, there will always be one dispute or the other, in any human endeavor or existence. With their over-bloated population and size, the majority ethnic groups could always boast of electoral victory to form the cabinet and also majority in the parliament, any day, through which they would continue to dominate the minority groups. It was then resolved to establish a strong judicial system, capable of intervening in any dispute between persons and persons, persons and governments or indeed any other authority. This partly accounts for the reason why the judiciary was established as an independent and autonomous arm of government, to be strong enough to look anyone in the eye, to be strong enough to damn oppressive policies and strike down all manners of injustice. This worked well for some time, until the military emerged with absolute powers and decrees, through which the powers of the courts were circumscribed and at times suspended, outrightly. But even under the military, the judiciary remained the only arm of government that could not be dissolved totally, unlike the parliament and the executive. No government has been so brutish and damning, as to outrightly sack the courts; we have never had it so bad and we pray not to ever have such malady, in our time.

What then is the problem with the judiciary? It insists on the rule of law, the rule of prescription, the rule of certainty, the rule of fairness and the rule of equity and equality. The judiciary abhors all forms of impunity, by which arbitrariness and unequal application of rules and regulations become the norm of human behavior. In this regard therefore, everyone in the judiciary is a potential threat to and target of the executive arm of government, represented by the President or Governor, Ministers or Commissioners, police officers, law enforcement agencies, public officers, civil servants, heads of government parastatals and other agencies. They mostly would love to bend the rules, when their vested interests are at stake, which invariably sets them in confrontation with the judiciary.

Membership of the Bench is however a special calling, not meant for the ordinary human being, given to the usual emotions and fancies. The judge is expected to be a special breed, above board, sober, conservative, moderate in all things and without any flair for extravagance or such worldly cravings. He is to keep away from society, some of whom may end up in his court one day. In return for these manifold deprivations, society accords him dignity, honour and reverence and call him “My Lord”, being the next person to God in terms of power and authority. In addition, the State undertakes to pick up his bills and guarantee him a secured tenure of office and a worthy life of retirement, after the Bench. But has this been the case? In times past, yes, but not so any longer. The State has failed in its duty of care for the welfare of the judge, some of whom have not experienced any wage increase for over ten years. The judge is overburdened with cases, has no judicial assistant as compared with his counterparts in the cabinet as Minister, or in the Senate, all who have countless aides and personal assistants. So, we failed the judges, no doubt.

But more worrisome is the fact that the judges themselves failed society, by departing from their established codes and ethics, by mingling and tangling with the society, by craving the very things that they were supposed to condemn and punish in their judgments. Some judges became very affluent, some parading estates upon estates, even abroad! Some of the judges were pushed to the lion by the neglect of the State, becoming willing tools in the hands of crooked lawyers and their corrupt clients. Or else, how can it be said that motions and processes are cooked and drafted in the homes of judges, that judges have special preference for certain lawyers that they work with and some even enjoy the patronage of litigants. It then got so bad that oftentimes when clients go to brief the lawyer, they want to know how to get access to judges, and when you don’t oblige them, they find their way there!

The judiciary is in dire need of reforms, the legal profession is crying for attention, such that the Bar and the Bench should this very moment declare a state of emergency. Why has the State abandoned the courts? Why can’t we have as many judges as we have Senators and Legislators? Why should the courts be so few and congested, to the extent that in the Supreme Court presently, civil appeals filed in 2008 are the ones being treated? Why should we have only fifteen justices for the entire Supreme Court of a nation of over 200 million people? Why should a State like Lagos, with over 24 million people, be served by less than 50 judges? Why should judges be so poorly treated, such that when a Justice of the Supreme Court was retiring, she lamented that she had no personal house of her own to stay? How on earth can we expect balanced judgment from the one who has not been catered for? When they go to the same market to buy food and their children attend the same schools? Should it be an offence to go to the Bench to serve one’s country?

There is fire on the rooftop! Why should any judge, worth his name and dignity, be involved in arranging the movement and assignment of cases to his court? Why should any judge ever agree to meet with any litigant that has a case in his court? Why should anyone who has the fear of God, be twisting the facts of any case, just to reach a pre-arranged conclusion? Why should judgment be for sale? Why did I go to study law, why am I busy studying and preparing for any case, burning the midnight oil, if the outcome of all my labour is up for sale, to the highest bidder? Why should any client bother himself to hire me as his lawyer, if he could get access to the judge and buy the judgment off the court? Truth is, no bribe given ever remains a secret. How can a judge still be sitting in the open court, pretending to be listening to the lawyers and their witnesses, when he has already been paid by one of them to do his bidding? Is there no dignity in labour? The one in heaven who created the eyes, can He not see? The one who created the ears, can He not hear? Is there no divine judgment after death again?

It is clear without any iota of doubt that the system needs urgent cleansing, but it must start with the one in authority, which is the government. You cannot plant maize and expect to harvest beans. Let us first look into the welfare and conditions of service of all judicial officers. Should it be possible for a judicial officer to be kidnapped or attacked by persons whose cases he is presiding over? Should judges be under any form of trepidation, any sense of intimidation or harassment by the same government that appointed them into office? Should a judge first think of the likely reaction of the President or the Governor, before he writes his judgment? Should judges be worried about post-retirement benefits, of the likelihood of being mocked by the same society that they served diligently or being humiliated by the same persons from whom they have had cause to reject tempting offers to compromise their judgments? Should judicial officers have cause to worry about the future of their children? We need a very urgent and robust welfare package for all judicial officers. And having done these, should we tolerate or pamper corrupt judges? Should they not be well monitored and audited constantly to weed off the bad ones? What is the gain for society, for investing so much in judges? How can we assure ourselves of the neutrality of judges in all cases before them? Should we not expect judges to do justice according to law, without fear, favour, affection or ill will, and to decide cases according to their conscience in the fear of God? And for us to deal ruthlessly with them whenever they fall short? Questions and many more questions, abound.

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‘STOP THE KILLINGS NOW!’ ADEGBORUWA TELLS BUHARI

BY EBUN-OLU ADEGBORUWA, SAN

In the course of last week, both Chambers of the National Assembly took up the issue of failing security across the land. Whilst the Senate asked that the service chiefs be sacked, the House of Representatives interacted with the security agencies. It is now clear to all and sundry, at least from the comments and contributions of lawmakers across party lines, that Nigeria is approaching a failed state. The pogrom going on in Southern Kaduna presently is totally unacceptable. In a programme that I monitored on television recently, a presidential aide was challenged to take a drive around his constituency without security patrol if indeed he feels Nigeria is safe enough. The worsening security situation across the land should be a cause for concern to all of us. The President has a duty to act fast, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria.

Nigeria became a State formally in 1960, with sovereign powers transferred from the British colonialists to the representatives of the people. By law however, section 2 (1) of the 1999 Constitution states that “Nigeria is one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign state to be known by the name of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”, and by section 2 (2) thereof, “Nigeria shall be a Federation consisting of states and a Federal Capital Territory”. So, in the real sense of the word, Nigeria is created as a sovereign state consisting of federating units. Fair enough, the same Constitution that created the Nigerian Federation also specified the kind of powers that it should exercise and the functions it should perform, for its citizens. In this regard, Chapter 2 of the self-same Constitution, comes to bear. I will limit myself for this discourse however, to section 14 of the Constitution.

Under and by virtue of section 14 (2) (a), “sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution, derives ALL its powers and authority” (emphasis supplied). In very simple terms therefore, the sovereignty attached to the entity known as the Federal Republic of Nigeria, resides in the people of Nigeria. In essence, all our leaders hold power in trust for the people of Nigeria and they cannot go on acting as if it is the other way round. To break it down more, there is no President who should claim to be in power, there is no Governor who should assert any authority and there should be no legislative house or even a court of law, that should rule over and above the people and be lording policies and decisions over them. Power belongs to the people, pure and simple. The fact that the people of Africa and especially Nigeria, have been living in the opposite of civility and modernisation, whereby those elected into office by the people turn around to arrogate power to themselves, cannot be an excuse to obfuscate this simple truth.

Now to section 14 (2) (b) of the Constitution, wherein it is stated expressly and without equivocation, that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” A community interpretation of section 14 (2) (a) and (b) respectively will show clearly that the Nigerian State was created for the people of Nigeria, that the focus of the entity called Nigeria is the people and that the target of power and existence of that Federation, is the people. It is good therefore, to sound it loud and clear, that the very existence of government, the totality of the exercise of power, by all and sundry, is for the security and welfare of the people and anything outside this, anything done that cannot achieve this, means a failure of governance. Pure and simple.

According to the learned authors of Merriam-Webster Dictionary, SECURITY means: “(a) freedom from danger (safety); (b) freedom from fear or anxiety; … something that secures, protection or measures taken to guard against espionage or sabotage, crime, attack, or escape.” The priority of security in governance is better illustrated by section 4 of the Police Act, wherein it is stated that the police shall be “… employed for the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of offenders, the preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged, and shall perform such military duties within or outside Nigeria as may be required of them by, or under the authority of this or any other Act.” What stands out in this section is the phrase “protection of lives and property”. Now, let us match this with certain data recently released by the Inspector-General of Police himself.

At the quarterly Northern Traditional Rulers’ Council meeting held in Kaduna in, 2019, the then Inspector-General of Police stated that in the first quarter of 2019 alone, 1,071 persons lost their lives in crime-related cases across the country. He stated further that between January and April 2019 alone, 685 persons were kidnapped. Amnesty International has a higher figure of deaths and casualties. In 2018, it was estimated that about 6, 562 persons died from crime-related cases whilst generally, an estimate of about 13,000 persons are said to have died from the insurgency going on in the land, whilst about 1.1m people have been displaced thereby. Just in one year! This is surely frightening, to the extent that no one can claim to sleep with the two eyes closed, any longer. It may well be that the government is taking all necessary steps to contain the rising spate of insecurity across Nigeria, but this remains to be seen by all and sundry, in terms of security and safety, in the real sense of the word. The summary now would seem to be that the government has not been able to rise up to the challenges posed by insecurity. The death rate is climbing everyday.

Now to welfare, since the two main points of governance are security and welfare. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines WELFARE as “the state of doing well, especially in respect to good fortune, happiness, well-being, or prosperity.” Are we doing well as a people, presently? Are we enjoying some form of good fortune economically? Is the well-being of the people of this nation improving in any form at all? Are we happy, with the state of things in Nigeria? Is there prosperity in the land? Without any doubt whatsoever, suicide cases have increased, the economic power of the people has dwindled considerably and virtually everyone now depends on handouts from the government, as private businesses are all struggling to survive, in the absence of basic infrastructure, especially power supply. I have no doubt in my mind that the true testimony across the land is that the majority of the people are suffering indeed. I see it in the text messages that I receive every now and then, for financial assistance, I read it in the news daily, of how many States in the Federation are owing their workers salaries, for several months and how the ordinary people are just living from hand to mouth, barely eking out a living, just surviving and tagging along. Companies are closing down, on account of COVID 19 and there is palpable suffering across the land.

The present circumstance of Nigeria is that many people have become beggars of some sort. Even as businessmen and women, professionals and even as manufacturers, the bulk of the little profit margin is spent on infrastructure, whereby you are forced to generate your own electricity, provide your own water, build your own road, employ your own security, train your children in private schools or send them abroad, if they must excel, provide yourself health care if you must live, and may be buy your own car, if you must move around. It is that bad, that the government seemed to have shifted all its responsibilities to the citizens. And how exactly is anyone expected to survive in such hostile environment, where you spend most of your valuable time in traffic, you get home to sleep in intense heat and darkness and then you eventually manage to make it to the office the following day, only to be confronted with power outage, all day long, draining all human capacity, productivity and usefulness. Can we then say that we have a nation or that any form of governance is in place?

From all the above frightening scenarios, how do you then describe the entity created as Nigeria, if it is agreed that the two critical responsibilities of government are the security and welfare of the people? This piece became necessary as it would seem that those in authority do not well appreciate the enormity of the situation that we presently face in Nigeria or that state propaganda has so prospered and become the art of governance, that some of them are totally ensconced from the reality of present day Nigeria. Whereas I know that some well-meaning persons exist in authority presently, I verily believe that the time has now come, for some frank introspection that will translate into some genuine appreciation, of the debilitating welfare and security conditions of our people, if we are to say that there is governance at all. In the absence of that, the reasonable conclusion is that we are gradually moving to a failed state, as echoed by those legislators, who, very unfortunately, are themselves part and parcel of the failure of the state.

The President must act and act quickly, as time is running out on him. As an expert in security matters given his background as a military general, it is totally unacceptable that the President is unable to stem the rising tide of insecurity in the land, especially the terror of bandits, criminals and insurgents. How do we have leaders and we live like nomads, victims and aliens in our own country?

Copyright 2020 CITY LAWYER. Please send emails to citylawyermag@gmail.com. Join us on Facebook at https://web.facebook.com/City-Lawyer-Magazine-434937936684320 and on TWITTER at https://twitter.com/CityLawyerMag All materials available on this Website are protected by copyright, trade mark and other proprietary and intellectual property laws. You may not use any of our intellectual property rights without our express written consent or attribution to www.citylawyermag.com. However, you are permitted to print or save to your individual PC, tablet or storage extracts from this Website for your own personal non-commercial use.

YLF CHAIR, TOP UK ATTORNEY, UDEMEZUE TACKLE YOUNG LAWYERS’ WELFARE TOMORROW

Vocal Nigerian Law School Senior Lecturer, Mr. Sylvester Udemezue will tomorrow square up with a leading United Kingdom attorney, Prof. Suzanne Rab and President of the Nigerian Bar Association Young Lawyers Forum (NBA-YLF) Council, Mr. Tobi Adebowale to discuss the vexed issue of welfare of young lawyers.

The event is a virtual conference hosted by top Kaduna based law firm, Fama Firm and titled “Contemporary issues facing the welfare of young lawyers in Nigeria and possible solutions.” The two-hour roundtable which promises to be highly engaging will kick off at 1:30 pm.

The other panelists include Mr. Idris Mohammed, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (UK) and Managing Partner of FAMA FIRM as well as Adeline Owusua Asante, a Ghanaian attorney with Accra based Integrated Legal Consultants. The webinar will be moderated by Zainab Mohammad Bello, Pro-bono Coordinator at FAMA FIRM.

Participants are required to register for the webinar at https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_0L6m2ioQTaycWsqG4dLn-w or www.famafirm.com/webinar.

Rab has the uncommon distinction of having been admitted to the bar of England and Wales both as a barrister and solicitor. She is also admitted as a solicitor in Ireland. She has wide experience of EU law and competition law matters combining cartel regulation, commercial practices, IP exploitation, merger control, public procurement and State aid. 

Rab’s practice has a particular focus on the interface between competition law and economic regulation. She advises governments, regulators and businesses across the regulated sectors including in the communications, energy, financial services, healthcare/ pharmaceuticals, TMT and water sectors. She has significant experience of advising on the development, implementation and application of new competition laws and regulatory regimes in line with international best practices, including in emerging markets.

In private practice as a solicitor for 15 years prior to joining the bar, she has held positions at magic circle and leading international antitrust practices. Most recently she was an antitrust partner with a leading US practice. She has also held the role of director at PricewaterhouseCoopers working within its strategy, economics and forensics teams.

A respected author, Rab is a Consulting Editorial Board member for LexisNexis Competition; Visiting Professor, Imperial College Business School, Intellectual Property and Antitrust; Member, Advisory Board of the Oxford Regulatory Policy Institute (RPI), and a Member of Editorial Board of Competition Law Insight Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

She has been described by Who’s Who Legal UK Bar as “among the best” in the energy field according to sources who commend her “tenacity, technical excellence and enthusiasm”. The Legal 500/Chambers & Partners describes her as “Recommended for her experience acting for governments, regulators and businesses on EU regulation,” adding that “Solicitors praise her for her superior client service .…” On its part, Who’s Who Legal UK Bar: Competition describes the leading attorney as having “superb knowledge of the law”, “creative approach to problem solving” and a “hard-working nature.”

Mohammed has extensive interest in Telecommunication law and Corporate and Commercial Law, having pursued both interests at post-graduate level. He also has extensive experience in Arbitration. He is reputed as an accomplished litigator and appellate court lawyer, and has written several briefs at the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal. His experience cuts across Telecommunications Law, Arbitration, Litigation & Appellate Practice.

He has consulted for such A-List technology companies like Swap Technologies & Telecomms Plc, American Towers Corporation Nigeria Ltd, Emerging Markets Telecommunications Services Limited (Etisalat), Huawei Technologies Nigeria Limited, MainOne Cable Company Ltd, Sparkwest Industries, Starcomms Plc and Helios Towers Nigeria.

Mohammed successfully represented a Nigerian tower company before an adhoc arbitral panel in a claim of $65 Million Dollars against a major telecommunications company, and is currently representing clients in a N1.2 Billion damages claim against a multinational company and a N650 million contract claim against a state government.

His practice areas include Telecommunications Law, Arbitration, Litigation And Appellate Practice, And Corporate/Commercial Law.

FAMA FIRM is reputed as “one of the leading commercial law firms in Northern Nigeria.” The firm provides legal services in diverse areas, and is “highly dynamic, service oriented, principally focused on fulfilling client’s need.”

Copyright 2020 CITY LAWYER. Please send emails to citylawyermag@gmail.com. Join us on Facebook at https://web.facebook.com/City-Lawyer-Magazine-434937936684320 and on TWITTER at https://twitter.com/CityLawyerMag All materials available on this Website are protected by copyright, trade mark and other proprietary and intellectual property laws. You may not use any of our intellectual property rights without our express written consent or attribution to www.citylawyermag.com. However, you are permitted to print or save to your individual PC, tablet or storage extracts from this Website for your own personal non-commercial use.